Five Essential Skills for New Principals

August 2013, Volume 36, Issue 12

Over the past decade, the principalship has evolved, becoming a more multifaceted, demanding role than ever. In fact, 75 percent of principals surveyed in the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher report that the job has become too complex.

But, armed with this knowledge, new school leaders can prepare themselves for the many challenges of their new position. It is essential that principals, in the early years of their career, begin honing the skills that will make them great long-term leaders: vision, collaboration, and time- and people-management.

“Aspects of the job will get easier and there will always be challenges,” says James Warnock, a veteran principal from Alma, Arkansas. In a roundtable with Principal on the challenges novice principals face, he said new leaders will become more efficient as they navigate their responsibilities. “[Now] the challenges do not produce as much anxiety in me as they used to because of the network of support I have developed over the years.”

That “network of support” includes mentors, colleagues, and best-practice resources. Over the last year, Principal explored these supports for new principals in its Charting Your Path series. Here are five key techniques that the articles in the series revealed.

Motivate and inspire your team. “Effective leaders must find ways to motivate their employees to provide maximum success for the organization,” write John and Sheila Eller in “Working Productively with Difficult and Resistant Staff,” the first article in the Charting Your Path series. Collaborating with difficult team members requires patience and targeted, individualized tactics.

“Even though negative and difficult staff members might make up a minority of your staff, their influence can be large if not addressed,” write the Ellers. Their piece outlines specific steps to confront and manage these staff members.

Understand and maximize research. School leaders are inundated with best practices and descriptions of programs that work. But research findings are seldom definitive, and are often contradictory, according to authors Scott Bauer and David Brazer. Their article, “Navigating Your Way Through the Research Jungle” examines how to find, critically analyze, and—most importantly—apply research findings in ways that work for your school.

“It is impossible to pinpoint how best to apply research knowledge without consideration of a variety of factors such as your school’s context and culture,” write Bauer and Brazer. “We advocate thinking forward by anticipating what will happen as you move toward implementation of your plans.” Their article can help new principals achieve this goal.

Manage time. This, any veteran principal will attest, is a school leader’s greatest challenge. But, as they navigate the principalship, great leaders find ways to make time management work for them. For instance, Melissa Patschke, principal of Upper Providence Elementary School in Royersford, Pennsylvania, suggests setting aside “you time” early in the day.

“Organize your day to ensure that you have an hour of “alone time” each morning. If everyone arrives at 8:00 a.m., arrive at 7:00 a.m.! Set friendly boundar­ies to ensure your time is respected,” she writes. “In that hour, be sure to make a list of the items you plan to accomplish as the day progresses. This single hour will allow you to open your office door and step into the day with a feeling of achievement!”

Patschke and other seasoned administrators shared their favorite time-savers with Principal in “Beat the Clock.” Discover more of their ideas on scheduling, working with parents, and paperwork here.

Transition your teacher talents. “New principals must remember to take advantage of the skills they honed as teachers,” writes Dwayne A. Young, principal of Centreville Elementary School in Centreville, Virginia. “While they no longer have their own classrooms, as principals, they can instead influence the entire school community.”

Young explored the talents honed from teaching, such as building relationships, that principals can bring to their new role in his piece for Charting Your Path. Read “From Teacher to Principal: Five Effective Tools” for his advice.

Lean on a principal mentor. Research has indicated that mentoring is key to enhancing a principal’s career. Thirty-two states (so far) have legislative policies that support mentoring programs for new administrators. Once a new school leader has been partnered with a mentor, it’s important for them to be an open, reflective protégé.

“Protégés need to feel comfortable assessing both the strengths and weaknesses of their leadership skills, reflecting on these attributes, and planning to make adjustments as needed,” writes Linda Searby in “Do You Have a Mentoring Mindset?,” part of the Charting Your Path series. In it, Searby, an assistant professor of educational leadership at Auburn University and a nationally certified mentor in the NAESP National Mentor Program, explores the top ten components of a healthy mentoring attitude.

For more support, new administrators can turn to NAESP’s Center for New Principals. The Center’s curated resources are organized around topics new K-8 principals need to know about: leadership growth and achievement; student growth and achievement; school planning and progress; school culture; instructional leadership; and stakeholder support and engagement.

Copyright © 2013 National Association of Elementary School Principals. No part of the articles in NAESP magazines, newsletters, or website may be reproduced in any medium without the permission of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. For more information, view NAESP’s reprint policy.

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